#REVIEW: “LADY MACBETH”
Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
Great feminist heroes can also be the villains of their own stories. Based on a book by Russian novelist Nikolai Leskov, Lady Macbeth is not the Shakespearean tale of a woman gone mad but a shockingly modern tale of a woman willing to do anything to stay in control of her own life.
Lady Katherine was wed, she is reminded by her husband Alexander (Paul Hilton), for a piece of land he wanted even less than he wanted her. Her father-in-law (Christopher Fairbank) is adamant that she fulfill her sole duty of producing an heir; a task that proves difficult since her husband won’t touch her and eventually leaves to look after the family’s holdings in another town. Alone with only her servant Anna (Naomi Ackie), Katherine gets up to all kinds of trouble starting with bedding Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a stable hand whom she catches mistreating Anna. In order to maintain her power over Sebastian, Anna, and her home, Katherine makes a series of calculated decisions that will shock audiences.
Although set in the 19th century, Katherine is a very modern woman. Her sexual awakening is worthy of the 1960s and brings with it a sense of freedom she had never previously experienced. Once she has tasted this power, despite being a woman of her time she is always firmly in control. Her mistreatment of Anna and the actions she takes to remain with her lover leave no doubt she is not someone the audience is meant to truly like or admire.
Florence Pugh is earning raves and awards for her performance as Lady Katherine. From bored housewife who is barred from leaving her new home to murderous chatelaine, her character’s evolution is extraordinary to chart. The obedient wife in the lovely blue dress is very different from the rebellious woman in black who was left to her own devices. The moment Katherine makes the decision to chase after Sebastian a light enters her eyes and you can see her calculate not only the joy she will find in his body but also in the bold defiance of her absentee husband and controlling father-in-law.
Screenwriter Alice Birch has the servant girl Anna lose power in direct relation to Katherine’s rise. Where Anna once watched over her mistress to ensure she didn’t fall asleep and rolled her eyes at Katherine’s laziness, she is soon brought down not only by her station but by Katherine’s machinations. After being manipulated into complicity in Katherine’s first murder, Ackie portrays Anna as a woman who longs to speak her mind but knows she can never do so.
Women in Shakespeare’s Macbeth were secondary characters: his Lady Macbeth pushes her husband to commit the act of regicide but despite her eventual guilt does not participate in the act. Lady Katherine has none of the titular character’s belated morality and feels no remorse for the actions she takes. Director William Oldroyd’s TIFF ’16 hit Lady Macbeth is my must-see pick for the weekend.
D Films release LADY MACBETH Friday, July 28, 2017.